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While learning the book English Vocabulary In Use, there's a sentence:

The ability of better-off parents and well-endowed schools to push children towards the institutions at the top of the league may, in the long term, have the effect of depressing opportunity for the less well-off or for children from home environments that do not provide the push and motivation to excel.

I need some help on deconstructing the sentence.

Problem 1

How should I deconstruct and understand:

"The ability of better-off parents and well-endowed schools to push children towards the institutions at the top of the league may,"

My initial understanding was:

  1. (The ability of better-off parents) and (the ability of well-endowed schools to push children towards the institutions at the top of the league), may

I thought that "to push children towards the institutions at the top of the league" only describes "the ability of well-endowed schools".

But after a second thought, I thought it should be:

  1. (The ability of better-off parents and well-endowed schools) to push children towards the institutions at the top of the league, may

"to push children towards the institutions at the top of the league" describes both.

Are both understanding correct or only the second one is correct ? Now I think the latter is correct.

Problem 2

have the effect of depressing opportunity for the less well-off or for children from home environments that do not provide the push and motivation to excel.

  1. have the effect of depressing opportunity for (the less well-off) or (for children from home environments that do not provide the push and motivation) to excel.

that is:
have the effect of depressing opportunity for the less well-off to excel, have the effect of depressing opportunity for children from home environments that do not provide the push and motivation to excel.

  1. have the effect of depressing opportunity for (the less well-off or for children from home environments) that do not provide the push and motivation to excel.

Is "that do not provide the push and motivation" a supplement only for "children from home environments" or for both, that is "the less well-off or children"?

I don't know why I would have such kind of confusion and understanding but it's not the first time I've had this confusion.

Is it common/typical mistake? Does this belong to any English grammar learning pitfalls or topics? I wish someone could point out so I can search more materials to enhance this.

1 Answer 1

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Problem 1

The second meaning is the correct one. What would the ability of better-off parents refer to if it wasn't to push children...?

Problem 2

Your first interpretation is the correct one. All children come from a home environment of some kind; this sentence refers to the homes that do not provide the motivation to excel. A comma after well-off might have made the meaning clearer.

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  • If I replace "or" with "and" in the quoted sentence of problem 2, that is, "have the effect of depressing opportunity for the less well-off and for children from home environments that do not provide the push and motivation to excel.", will the second interpretation be correct then?
    – Rick
    Mar 23, 2023 at 10:12
  • Could you give me some advice on how to better understand complex sentences like this? Are there any related materials or English learning books recommeded? Or do you think it is not a big problem? Sorry I've asked so many but this has been bothering me for quite some time.
    – Rick
    Mar 23, 2023 at 10:17
  • No, I don't think changing or to and would have much effect on the meaning. It's a question of logic rather than grammar. As I said, both richer and poorer children 'come from home environments' - the reference is to children from a particular kind of home - one where the parents don't encourage them to do well at school. Mar 23, 2023 at 10:51

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